Now that both Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri—the original faces and leaders of al-Qaeda—are dead, it is interesting to reflect on how the terror strikes of 9/11 impacted me. Although I now often write on topics such as the Muslim persecution of Christians and the historical interaction between Islam and the West, following September 11, 2001, my focus shifted to the specter of modern-day Islamic terrorism in the guise of al-Qaeda. As such, almost all of my earliest work—published articles, my first book (The Al Qaeda Reader), and media appearances stretching back to 2005—revolved around al-Qaeda; and even more so on the recently slain al-Zawahiri than bin Laden himself, as the former was always the organization’s chief ideologue.
Because they may make for interesting or edifying viewing/reading—not least as al-Qaeda remains a serious threat—below are two of those media appearances and one article, all from fifteen years ago:
CSPAN Book-TV: After Words, with Lawrence Wright, September 10, 2007:
The entire hour-long interview can be viewed directly on C-SPAN.
KCET-TV/PBS: Life and Times, August 2007:
Chronicle of Higher Education: “The Two Faces of Al Qaeda,” by Raymond Ibrahim, October 3, 2007:
When the September 11 attacks occurred, I was in Fresno, Calif., researching my M.A. thesis on the Battle of Yarmuk, one of the first yet little-known battles between Christendom and Islam, waged in 636 A.D. That battle, in which the Arab invaders were outmatched and yet still triumphed, would have immense historical repercussions. A mere four years later, Egypt and Mesopotamia, and all the land between, would become Islamic. A century later, all the land between southern France and India would be added to the House of Islam.The next time I came across any reference to this pivotal battle was four years later, as I was translating the words of Osama bin Laden. Surprisingly, an event that seemed so distant, almost irrelevant, to the West was to bin Laden a source not only of pride but of instruction. For him it was not mere history but an inspiring example of outnumbered and under-equipped mujahedin who, through faith-inspired courage, managed to defeat the Western empire of Byzantium. When the Arab and Afghan mujahedin, including bin Laden’s nascent Al Qaeda — outnumbered and under-equipped — defeated the Soviet invaders, history was repeating itself.
Yet why would this band, so reminiscent of their seventh-century forebears, attack the United States, its onetime ally against the Soviets, and in such a horrific manner? What was its motivation?